My favorite Mexican holiday is this day, November 2nd, the Day of the Dead.
Why? Aren’t there better holidays, like Independence Day? Or Revolution Day? Or Work day!?
And to that I answer: No.
Independence? From what? Spain? 200 years later and we’re still chained to our preconceptions, our drama, our self-indulging tragedies, our blaming. We’re not free.
Revolution? From what? Nothing has changed. We’re still governed by the same rules, ideas and beliefs than we did 100 years ago.
They Day of the Dead, though, is probably the only Holiday that has survived, despite date changes, Catholicism and horrible governments, for thousands of years.
And it’s always been far more productive, inspiring and delicious than all the others.
Mexican culture has a strange relationship with death. In current times, it’s even more bizarre, as we’re a very Catholic country, and yet one day every year we gather in cemeteries to clean graves and leave food for the dead to eat, even though they’re supposed to be in Heaven.
Similarly to other similar festivals like Japan’s Bon or China’s Qingming, in Mexico we clean graves, bring food and celebrate in some fashion.
Unlike those festivals, however, we really go all out in expressing our love and admiration for our dearly departed.
And by that I mean we build altars.
Many, MANY altars.
And we prepare food. A LOT of food. Delicious autumn food, too!
And make festivals, dance, music, storytelling, poetry, all grand and loud and very Mexican.
We mock death, and we mock it with much respect.
Of the dead, we celebrate their lives, their achievements, and what they meant to us.
We gather skulls to remind us of our mortality. Luckily, and unlike our Aztec forefathers, our skulls are made of hardened sugar and chocolate, and are both a visual and culinary treat.
We cook a special type of bread, Pan de Muerto, which I wish I could eat every fucking day of the year.
In general, we enjoy our lives, because we only have one and that’s it.
And you can be a bit like that, too.
You see, one of the most important parts of Dia de los Muertos is the Calaveras, a special type of poetry that is written only for this day.
It’s usually careless poetry, not caring much about rhyme or metric, only about intention and good fun.
They are always tales about Death, and how someone, either dead or alive, tries to cheat the Grim Reaper.
It’s always a tale of wits, highlighting how humans tend to be resilient even in the face of their demise.
In the end, Death always wins, always with the last word, and always something related to our brief lives.
So I invite you to write something, anything.
Make a short Calavera, for yourself or someone you know or admire.
Something witty, something funny.
Something like this…
Steve was sitting in his office,
designing the new iPhone,
when the desk phone rang, loud:
“Sir, someone’s here to see you”.
“Let them in, but be quick”,
said Mr. Jobs, after a pause,
“I have too many emails to reply”.
And in came the Grim Reaper,
Death herself in her dark robes,
Scythe in one hand, iPod in the other,
“Steve, your time is now!”
“No”, said the man from Apple.
The bony one replied, enraged:
“If I, Death, say it’s your time,
then you’re coming with me!”
Steve grinned, flashing his iPad:
“It’s not my time, my Reaper.
I know that because, well,
there’s an App for that.”
Death looked at the screen,
and Steve’s words rang true:
There was an app for that,
and an accurate one, too!
And in the end, Death took him.
“Steve, I’m taking you anyways!
Because even in the afterlife,
we still need to Think Different!”
Feliz Dia de Los Muertos, my friends!
Share your Calaveras in the comments!